A History of Scandal
Sometime in January 1949, Senate President Jose Avelino asked rhetorically, “What are we in power for?” Avelino was speaking at a party caucus in Malacañang and expressing his resentment over the investigation of some officials’ moneymaking activities. Unaware that two journalists were on the sidelines, he was lecturing President Elpidio Quirino on the realities of Philippine politics.
Avelino continued: “Why should we pretend to be saints when in reality we are not? We are not angels. When we die we will all go to hell. It is better to be in hell because in that place there are no investigations, no secretary of justice, no secretary of the interior to go after us.
“When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He made a distinction between the good crook and the bad crook. We can aspire to be good crooks.”
Replying, President Quirino said, “I am no saint … but when public opinion demands an investigation, we have to go through the formality of ordering one.”
Avelino was investigated by the Senate, found guilty of tax evasion and suspended for one year.
In the light of the irregularities that high officials and the relatives of some officials of the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are alleged to have committed, some of them may have asked, or probably thought, “What are we in power for?”
Also in the light of the current exposés of venalities, we are reminded of another classic phrase, “Millionaires don’t steal.” Sen. Pacita Madrigal-Warns (later Gonzalez) said this when her name was mentioned in connection with what appeared to be a scam when she was secretary of social welfare during the administration of President Ramon Magsaysay.
In fact, millionaires and billionaires in government do steal, and they steal astronomical amounts, and with infuriating regularity. And yet they all go scot-free, and instead of being prosecuted and punished, they are idolized by Philippine society.
Magsaysay used to ask when he was about to make a decision on a government transaction or project, “Can we defend this in Plaza Miranda?” What he meant was, “Is this transaction or project aboveboard? Is this clean and graft-free? “
But can the same question be asked about the multimillion-peso and multibillion-peso deals of this administration?
The term of President Diosdado Macapagal, father of incumbent President Arroyo, was marked by some graft-ridden transactions, but he was not directly linked to them. Still, the opposition, led by its standard-bearer, Senate President Ferdinand Marcos, used the catchphrase, “Alis d’yan!” [“Get out of there!”] to lethal effect. Now, civil society is uttering various phrases that echo the “Alis d’yan!” of the 1964 presidential election campaign.
Marcos showed promise of becoming a good president. But more than a year before his second term was about to end, he imposed martial law. There was not much opposition to martial law, and the joke then was that the Philippines was composed of 45 million cowards and one SOB.
Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Marcos’ arch-enemy, whom Marcos granted a medical furlough in the United States, returned to Manila on Aug. 21, 1983, but before he could set foot on Philippine soil, he was assassinated. That signaled the beginning of the end of the Marcos dictatorship. His widow Corazon ran in the snap presidential election, and her battle cry was “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na!” [“Enough, too much, change now!”]
Change did come through People Power during the EDSA Revolution, but what it accomplished was just a change of the dramatis personae and not of the flawed political system. After some cosmetic changes and the utterance of the usual political platitudes, it was back to the same old ways of traditional politics.
“Alis d’yan!” “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na!” Virtually the same phrases were used by civil society and other groups at EDSA II, which drove President Joseph Estrada out of Malacañang. He was later tried and found guilty of plunder. But only six weeks after the verdict was handed down by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, Estrada was pardoned by President Arroyo.
Now, it’s Arroyo that is the target of civil society asking her to resign. “Tama na, sobra na, kumilos na!” [“Enough, too much, act now!”] Is history repeating itself?